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Our Team

Zul Merali
Director

Dr Zul Merali is the Founding Director of the Brain and Mind Institute at the Aga Khan University. He is a neuroscientist and pharmacologist by training (McGill University, University of Ottawa and Wharton), with over 40 years of academic engagement. Has published over 250 peer-reviewed scientific publications. He has used his proven academic and entrepreneurial ability to add value to forward thinking organizations to help address the mental health problem, locally, nationally and globally. His objectives have been to build and/or re-engineer organizations to deliver outstanding results and motivating and encouraging others towards positive change.


Lukoye Atwoli
Associate Director

Prof Atwoli is the Dean of the Medical College, East Africa and a Professor in Psychiatry. He has a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery from Moi University. His residency (Master of Medicine) in Psychiatry was undertaken at the University of Nairobi. Dr Atwoli has a PhD from the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He is a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and an Honorary Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town. He is an international Faculty member at the Global Health Institute, Duke University and an external examiner for multiple universities. Read more 


Diana MacKay
Global Practice Lead, Institute Development and Operations 

Diana MacKay serves as Special Advisor to the Provost at Aga Khan University and as Global Practice Lead for the Brain and Mind Institute and the Institute for Global Health and Development.  

Diana spent ten years with the World Bank in Washington D.C. during the reforms and restructuring brought on by globalization in the mid-1990s and leading to the Human Development Network which managed lending operations in education, health and social protection. She worked in Japan’s private sector as the sole foreign woman working within a traditional Japanese manufacturing firm of 3000 employees.  

For more than a decade at The Conference Board of Canada, Diana led a research portfolio in education, health, housing, and immigration. She established the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education, National Immigration Centre, and the Saskatchewan Institute.  She managed the Roundtable on Socio-Economic Determinants of Health, the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, the Canadian Centre for Environmental Health, and the Centre for Health System Design and Management.  

She has extensive experience with the Canadian university system, including at the Canadian Bureau for International Education, as leader of the Quality Network for Universities, and in a ground-breaking role at Carleton University, where she was the Executive Director of the Global Academy.  She was invited to serve as the first Visiting Fellow at the Canada School of Public Service.

Diana earned a BA from Wellesley College, incorporating a year at Tokyo’s Waseda University followed by employment for several years in a Japanese manufacturing firm. She is fluent in Japanese. Diana has a Masters in Public Policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She has the designation as a certified Chartered Director from The Directors College, a joint venture of McMaster University and The Conference Board of Canada. She has served on numerous boards, chaired the Board of Food Banks Canada, and helped found Rideau Bridge to Canada, a Syrian refugee sponsorship group.


Ciru Kamanda
Office Manager

Ms. Ciru Kamanda (Wanjiru Nancy) joined the Aga Khan University’s (AKU) Brain and Mind Institute (BMI) in March 2021 in the capacity of an Office Manager, where she provides high quality administrative, project management leadership and support in the BMI Director’s Office. Prior to joining the BMI, she served in an administrative capacity at the AKU Faculty of Health Sciences Research Office, as an Administrative Officer from November 2011 to January 2017 and subsequently as a Manager from February 2017. 

She has a wealth of expertise as an administration and research management professional, with specialized education coupled with work experience in Office Operations, Research and Grants Management, as well as Institutional Review Board (IRB) Administration. Academically, she has a Masters in Project Planning and Management, combined with local and international continuous professional development in office and programs management. ​

Esther Nzuki
Administrative Assistant

Esther Nzuki has a wealth of experience in the areas of administrative support, human resource management and business development. Her professional experience spans over 5 years and she is well conversant with the institution and its operations. 

Esther holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree specializing in Human Resource Management from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), Kenya and a Higher Diploma in Human Resource Management from the College of Human Resource Management (CHRM), Kenya.  She is also a Member of the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM), Kenya.


Olivera Nesic-Taylor

Consultant, Neuroscientist 

Dr Nesic-Taylor holds a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Belgrade (Yugoslavia) and has been a neuroscience researcher and medical educator in Yugoslavia, Canada, Germany, and for the past 22 years in the ​United States. She has held tenured faculty positions at different medical schools, including the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, the Texas Tech Paul Foster School of Medicine at El Paso, and the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. She has also served as Associate Dean of Biomedical Science, Sam Houston State College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of Houston College of Medicine, USA, where she held the Cullen Endowed Chair of Biomedical Sciences. She has been the principal investigator for a number of American federally funded research grants. 

As a researcher with 38 peer-reviewed articles and over 2,000 citations, she was awarded the Eric Nader award for breakthrough research in the field of spinal cord injury by the American Association for Spinal Injury. As an awarded medical educator, Dr Nesic-Taylor created interactive sessions with a strong emphasis on the blending of basic and clinical sciences, aimed at improving clinical reasoning skills among medical students, as well as instilling the relevance of basic sciences for students’ future clinical practice. In addition, Dr Nesic-Taylor has developed novel integrated medical neuroscience courses, including a psychiatric neuroscience educational module for undergraduate medical students and psychiatry residents.


Amadi Ihunwo
Neuroscientist​

Prof Ihunwo holds a PhD in Anatomy from Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Uganda, Master of Science in Anatomy, University of Calabar, Nigeria, and Bachelor of Medical Sciences (Hons) Anatomy, University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He is a Professor of Anatomy and a Neuroscientist at the School of Anatomical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg,  South Africa, where he is also the immediate past Head of the Morphological Anatomy Division. He leads research in Comparative Adult Neurogenesis and Gliogenesis on brains of mammalian and avian species including factors affecting life-history changes. Prof Ihunwo was the Head of the Department of Anatomy, Histology & Embryology (2000 to 2005), and Associate Dean (2003 – 2005), Faculty of Medicine at Mbarara University of Science & Technology, Mbarara, Uganda. He completed the prestigious Switzerland-South Africa Joint Research Programme (SSAJRP) as Principal Investigator (2009 to 2014). Prof Ihunwo has supervised several MSc and PhD candidates to completion and has several publications in peer-reviewed journals. He is a recipient of research and excellence awards at Wits University and is a Visiting Professor to other universities in Africa. Further, he is the Secretary-General/CEO of the Society of Neuroscientists of Africa (SONA; 2017-2021). Prof Ihunwo represents Africa on the Council of the International Society for Neurochemistry (ISN; 2021-2025).


Kendi Muchungi
Instructional Designer, Blended and Digital Learning

Dr Muchungi is an Instructional Designer in Blended and Digital Learning with the Brain and Mind Institute (BMI), in partnership with the Network of Quality, Teaching and Learning, at the Aga Khan University. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the Africa Nazarene University, Kenya and a Masters and PhD degree (with Distinction) in Computational Neuroscience from University of Surrey, United Kingdom. In addi​tion, she holds a postgraduate Diploma in Advanced Web Development in E-Business from Humber College, Canada.  

Prior to joining Aga Khan University, Dr Muchungi gained expertise as the Communications and Technology Lead for the partnership ‘Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa’ (TESCEA). She was a Lecturer and Programme Leader at Africa Nazarene University, where she introduced new pedagogies for curriculum efficacy in a technology-centric environment. Dr Muchungi’s diverse wealth of experience includes emerging technologies, neuroscience, design and development of pragmatic solutions in curriculum.​


Linnet Ongeri
Suicide Prevention Scientist

Dr Ongeri is a psychiatrist and a scientist in the final stage of completing her PhD in suicidal behaviour among persons with psychotic disorders at Vrije University in the Netherlands. She holds a Master of Medicine degree in Psychiatry and a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery from the University of Nairobi, 2011 and 2006, respectively. Her expertise includes clinical research and development, public health and epidemiology, policy formulation, data analysis, and monitoring and evaluation. Her research interest is in designing and implementing appropriate cultural and regional research models that integrate mental health in primary health care.

Currently, Dr Ongeri heads the mental health division at the Centre for Clinical Research in KEMRI. She is a member of the Taskforce on Mental Health in Kenya and collaborates with and guides the Ministry of Health Technical Working Group at the national and county level. She is also an investigator on several studies that include: 1) testing strategies for integrating non-specialist delivery of evidence-based interventions for depression and/or trauma-disorder with primary care services at public sector hospitals; and 2) analysing neuropsychiatric genetics of African populations. The latter is funded by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She has been a co-investigator in other studies exploring psychotherapy for HIV+ women affected by gender based violence, prevalence of post-partum depression among women attending selected maternal and child health clinics, and mental health assessment in primary care facilities.​​


Edna Bosire

Medical Anthropologist

Dr Edna Bosire holds a Masters Degree in Medical Anthropology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya and a PhD in Medical Anthropology and Public Health from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa.  

Currently, she is a postdoctoral research scientist for the Blantyre Prevention Strategy (BPS) at Georgetown University, Centre for Innovation in Global Health (USA) & Kamuzu University of Health Sciences (formerly College of Medicine), Malawi. She is also a researcher at the Developmental Pathways for Health Research Unit (DPHRU) and School of Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa, where she holds an honorary appointment.

Her research interests are in health systems strengthening in Africa, HIV/AIDS, Diabetes, Mental health and Nutrition. She has used various anthropological, public health and implementation science theories and frameworks to design and implement health research projects in urban poor settings in Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, and Malawi. Dr Bosire has extensive experience working with policy makers and key decision makers in translating evidence / research into actions, with the aim of improving public and population health.

In 2019, she was appointed by the Hea​lth Systems Global for the Women Mentorship Programme​, and in 2021, she was appointed as an Academic Editor​ for the Plos Global Public Health Journal. Dr Bosire also teaches and mentors postgraduate students. Edna has published​ over widely in international peer reviewed journals.


Jasmit Shah
Data Scientist

Dr Shah holds a Doctorate and Master of Science degree in Biostatistics and Bioinformatics from the Un​iversity of Louisville, USA, 2017 and 2011, respectively. He also holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics, Statistics and Chemistry from University of South Alabama, USA, 2009. 

Dr Shah’s cumulative experience, spanning 11 years, includes research, teaching and consultancy. His experience is in biostatistics having worked in various departments within AKU such as Department of Internal Medicine, Department of Population Health, and the Centre of Excellence in Women and Child Health. Dr Shah has supported UNICEF Zambia and the World Bank Group in data consolidation and updating of tools such as EQUIST and PATHS to conduct evidence-based analysis and was part of the strategic plan for RMNCAHN for Zambia 2022-2027. He has also been a lead trainer in EQUIST.

(UNICEF) for projects in Ethiopia, Mozambique and Pakistan. As a lead in biostatistics and data science, Dr Shah has held the position of Assistant Professor in AKU Department of Population Health and delivered short courses in biostatistics in the Department of Biomedical Informatics, Moi University, Kenya. Further, he was a Research Associate and REDCap Database Coordinator at the Diabetes and Obesity Centre, University of Louisville, USA. 

Dr Shah is joining the Brain and Mind Institute from the AKU Department of Internal Medicine, where he is consulting on research projects conducted by the faculty and residents. In addition, he chairs the Department of Medicine Research Committee. Dr Shah is also a supervisor for post graduate students. Over 32 publications of his academic work have been published in numerous medical journals.​​


Maina Rachel
Research Associate​

As a Research Associate, Ms. Maina Rachel Wanjiru supports the Brain and Mind Institute’s research pillar to deliver targeted interventions. She is a qualified clinical psychologist with more than five years’ experience in assessment and management of psychological disturbances in individual and group therapy. Rachel holds a Master of Science degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Nairobi, Kenya and is currently pursuing her PhD at Tilburg University, Netherlands. She is skilled in training, assessment and management of mood disturbances, work related stressors, substance use, as well as anxiety related complications. Further, her competency encompasses management of research project’s life cycle from pre award, implementation, closeout, as well as manuscript preparation and publication.

Rachel’s research interest is in integrating mental health solutions in Low- and Middle-Income Countries. She has experience in working with policy makers, mental health experts and allied professionals in using research to integrate solutions for mental wellbeing. She has been awarded several local and international research grants and has published in various peer reviewed journals. Prior to joining the Brain and Mind Institute (BMI), Rachel held a faculty position at Technical University of Kenya, as well as research positions at Washington State University Global Health Kenya and University of Nairobi, Kenya. She currently is a consultant with the Suicide Technical Working Group at the Ministry of Health, Kenya.



Professor Murad Khan 
Suicide Prevention & Mental Health Consultant​

Professor Murad Khan supports the Brain and Mind Institute’s work on suicide prevention research, depression, and implementation science. 

He holds a PhD from University of London. Prior to his doctorate, Prof. Khan completed his MBBS from Dow Medical College, Karachi then furthered his psychiatric training and fellowship through King’s College and Institute of Psychiatry, London. He is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychiatry, Aga Khan University (AKU), Karachi, Pakistan. He is also Associate Faculty at the Centre for Bioethics and Culture (CBEC), Karachi. Prof. Khan is the past President of the International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) 2017-2020, and continues to serve on the Board of IASP, where he contributes to the organization’s global suicide prevention strategy. He also serves in several other mental health non-governmental organisations in Pakistan as well on the Bioethics Group at AKU. He holds the Membership of Royal College of Psychiatrists, UK and the Fellowship Certificates of Specialist Training in General Adult and Old-Age Psychiatry, UK. 

Prof. Khan’s research interests include focussing on epidemiology and socio-cultural and religious factors in suicide and self-harm in South Asia and developing economies, mental health of women and the elderly, narrative medicine, and organizational ethics. His extensive research work, findings and contributions on social and ethical issues have been published in several medical journals and the lay press, where is a frequent contributor.


Dr Manasi Kumar 
Implementation Scientist and a Mental Health Consultant

Dr Manasi Kumar is the Brain and Mind  Institute’s (BMI) Senior Implementation Scientist and a Mental Health Consultant. She  holds a doctorate degree from the University of London (UCL), UK. Trained in theoretical psychoanalysis and implementation science informed evidence based mental health research in LMICs, she has lived and worked in diverse contexts of South Asia and East Africa. For the last 10 years she was involved in training of clinical psychologists and psychiatrists based at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Nairobi, Kenya, and has been involved in mental health capacity building efforts targeting specialists, non-specialist health workers globally. 

She is an affiliate associate Professor at the Departments of Psychology and Global Health at University College London and University of Washington Seattle, US.  For the last seven years her focus has been on developing intervention approaches for peripartum adolescents, adolescents and young women living with HIV. Her focus on social determinants of mental health crosscuts adolescents, women, and families. She is on the WHO technical advisory group on maternal mental health and part of the senior advisory group behind UNICEF’s state of the world mental health report 2021. She is leading testing of UNICEF’s initiative mental health of adolescents at population level (MMAP) in Kenya as well as UNICEF/WHO’s Helping Adolescents Thrive (HAT). She is also a recipient of Fogarty International Centre and NIMH’s Global Leadership Award (K43) that is aiming to use WHO mhGAP framework and group IPT to develop sustainable interventions for peripartum adolescents that contribute towards mental health systems strengthening. She is a Co-Investigator in the UK National Institute of Health Research, evaluating the impact of group interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) in Lebanon and Kenya on child developmental outcomes, maternal depression, and the mother-child relationships. She is part of seven ongoing NIH funded studies. Her publications can be assessed on ResearchGate and Google Scholar.  

Her research interests include strengthening of mental health research capacity in SSA and other emerging economies and building sustainable and equitable partnerships that inform progress in global mental health. 


Aneel Singh Brar
Research Fellow
 
Aneel Brar, is a Research Fellow with the Brain and Mind Institute. His research focuses on maternal health, specifically on how social forces become embodied as mental and physical disorder among pregnant women and young mothers. Using anthropological methods, epidemiology, and implementation science, Aneel’s objective is to translate research into policies and programs that decolonize global health practice, address structural violence, and advance health equity. He is a PhD candidate in Medical Anthropology at the University of Oxford, has a Master of Medical Sciences degree in Global Health Delivery from Harvard University, a Master of Arts in Political Science from McGill University, as well as Bachelor degrees in Cell Biology and Political Science from University of Calgary. 
 
Over the past 10 years, Aneel has lived and worked mostly in rural Rajasthan to improve access to quality care. He is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Mata Jai Kaur Maternal and Child Health Centre,  has led the development of a task-shared non-specialist delivered perinatal mental health intervention called the Khushee Mamta Program (Happy Motherhood Program), and a male focused gender-based violence prevention program called Men Against Violence (MAV) with funding from Grand Challenges Canada and Harvard Medical School’s Center for Global Health Delivery. He also was a Visiting Academic at Harvard Medical School’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

Michael Karinga
Graphic Designer and Branding Development
 
Michael Karinga serves as a graphic designer and brand development specialist offering communication support.
He is a creative with over fifteen years’ experience working with various corporate teams including the International Finance Corporation, Bankable Frontier Associates and the Aga Khan Faculty of Arts and Sciences in East Africa. His achievements include the rebrand and way finding manual of Kenya’s biggest airport the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. He is also an illustrator for an online civil society magazine that reports on contemporary issues in the country.
Michael works to develop easy to understand communication outputs that increases access of information to various audiences.